The G20 is an international forum that brings the world’s major economies together. Its members account for more than 80 percent of global GDP, 75 percent of global trade, and 60 percent of the world’s population. Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, Japan, India, Indonesia, Italy, Mexico, Russia, South Africa, Saudi Arabia, South Korea, Turkey, the United Kingdom, the United States, and the European Union are among the members of the G20. Spain has been invited as a permanent guest as well.
The haze that obscures a clear blue sky or a picturesque skyline is caused by tiny particles known as PM2.5. PM2.5 is a term that refers to particulate matter that is less than 2.5 microns wide and is often caused by pollution. Despite their microscopic size, PM2.5 cause over 4 million premature deaths each year. According to a new study published in Nature Communications by Japanese researchers, pollution caused by consumption in the world’s largest economies accounts for half of those deaths.
PM2.5 is dangerous because of its small size. They are easily inhaled and accumulate inside the lungs, where they significantly increase the risk of cancer and other fatal diseases. However, it is the poor who are most vulnerable to PM2.5 and die prematurely.
The majority of deaths occur in developing countries, and without international coordination, the situation will worsen. While most countries acknowledge that they contribute to PM2.5 levels, there is little agreement on how much they contribute, and thus their financial responsibility.Dr. Keisuke Nansai, Research Director
“The majority of deaths occur in developing countries, and without international coordination, the situation will worsen,” said Dr. Keisuke Nansai, Research Director at the Material Flow Innovation Research Program of Japan’s National Institute for Environmental Studies, a visiting professor at the University of Sydney’s ISA, and one of the study’s lead authors.
While most countries acknowledge that they contribute to PM2.5 levels, there is little agreement on how much they contribute, and thus their financial responsibility. The amount caused by consumption is far more difficult to quantify than the direct production of PM2.5 by factories and automobiles.
According to Nansai, this is an important question to answer. Unlike direct production, which affects the producing country first and then spreads across borders to neighboring countries, PM2.5 caused by consumption may originate in distant countries and have negligible effects on the consuming country.
“Pollution in the form of production emissions creates an impetus for neighboring countries to implement joint PM2.5 reduction measures. Such cooperation is unlikely among geographically distinct countries “Nansai stated.
G20 members account for more than three-quarters of global trade and economic output. As a result, Nansai and his colleagues reasoned, understanding the impact of these countries’ consumption on PM2.5 levels would provide a reliable benchmark. The study used Eora, a database created nearly a decade ago to measure global supply chains around the world, to map out the emissions caused solely by consumption.
According to the study, consumption by the world’s most consuming nations, such as the United States and the United Kingdom, causes a significant number of premature deaths in distant nations such as China and India, whereas premature deaths caused by production habits are more common in neighboring countries such as Mexico and Germany.
COVID-19, the world-changing pandemic, is a deadly respiratory disease that primarily affects the elderly. Similarly, premature PM2.5 victims are mostly elderly. Unlike COVID-19, however, the study discovered another group that was alarmingly susceptible to the PM2.5 produced by consumption.
“We discovered that G20 nations’ consumption was responsible for 78,000 premature deaths of infants [up to 5 years old] worldwide,” Nansai explained.
In most G20 countries, the effect was minor, with the average age of premature deaths approaching 70 years old. However, premature infant death was so common in some countries, such as South Africa and Saudi Arabia, that the average age of premature deaths was under 60 years old. Similarly, in India and Indonesia, the average age of premature death barely passed this mark.
Nansai and his colleagues emphasize that if consumption is not taken into account, most countries will believe they should not be penalized for these deaths. “As long as responsibility for infant deaths due to production emissions is the only issue pursued,” they write in the study, “we can find no rationale for nations to confront the mass death of infants [in distant nations].”
Finally, to highlight the impact that PM2.5 levels from consumption alone have on human health, the study concluded that the lifetime consumption of 28 people in G20 countries will result in the premature death of one person worldwide.